DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. participated in this week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup testing at Daytona International Speedway in an attempt to learn more about how the 2013 Chevrolet SS race car will handle roughly a month from now when Speedweeks begins at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Solo car runs were the focus on Thursday, and Gordon clocked several top-10 laps in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet. But the six-time Daytona winner was more interested in the handling of his car than its speed. Handling, Gordon explained, will be more critical because there is less downforce in the rear of the 2013 Chevy SS.
“Things will change by the time we get back down here in February,” Gordon said. “I’m not too concerned with that right now. The car has good speed so that is number one. The next thing is just getting the car to drive well in traffic. Cooling and overheating and things like that have always been an issue down here the last couple years. We anticipate looking at the opening in the grille for that to be something we’re going to have to deal with again. Then, whether the tandem drafting is going to happen at all or not. It doesn’t appear that it is, but I still think that you have to explore it to see if with three to go, if there’s a green-white-checkered or something like that, you can be prepared to do what you have to do to win the race. You have to come down here and kind of patiently be aggressive by exploring those things now. It’s better to explore them now so we know what to anticipate when we get back down here in February for Speedweeks."
Johnson also treated the test as an educational opportunity and spent most of his time running around 20th while his engineers learned more about the best superspeedway package for the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.
“I think the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) is probably a good gauge as to where we are right now.” Johnson said. “We’re sitting on some speed. We just don’t want to cool the car down every time we go out and go through that whole mess. We’ve got grille tape off, and the car really in race format just trying to see with the changes we make what helps the car and what doesn’t. Then going through our motions. This isn’t the car we plan on bringing back for Speedweeks; it will be a backup. We know that we’ll build a better car and apply what we learn here. Not the most stellar on speed, but the engineers are learning a lot and going through the motions.”
Friday afternoon’s practice opened with drafting runs, and roughly half of the field participated. Earnhardt, Gordon and Kahne joined their Cup competitors, while Johnson’s team preferred to focus on solo runs. Kahne enjoyed the way his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet handled in the draft, and later told the media, “You could get a good burst of speed.”
“If you get close to the back of the car, you can give him a pretty good burst,” Kahne said. “If there’s an opening, he can pass a car, too. I kind of like how it worked right there.”
But an unfortunate incident one hour into the drafting session collected 12 cars and prompted NASCAR officials to wave the caution flag. All three Hendrick Motorsports teammates were involved, but Earnhardt still was optimistic about the future racing with the Chevrolet SS at Daytona.
“I think the racing will be better because it doesn’t look like we will be able to tandem,” said Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet. “The cars are down 50 percent on downforce in the back. They are real tail-happy. A lot of guys are really having a lot of snaps and moments out there on the racetrack where they are getting loose. With that in mind you are definitely not going to be pushing anybody through the corner.”